By Lara Gabrielle Fowler
The TCM Classic Film Festival kicked off today with a flurry of events taking place in the Roosevelt Hotel, followed by an array of screenings in the evening hours. The first official event that I attended was a very difficult trivia quiz hosted by Bruce Goldstein entitled “So You Think You Know Movies?” The questions ranged from the obscure to the very obscure, and the team that won did so with a total of 11 points out of 20. The high point of the event was the fact that a number of people who had questions written about them were there, including Norman Lloyd and James Karen. Regardless of the extreme difficulty of the game, it was heartening to see the celebrities greeted with such a warm reception, receiving standing ovations and much affection from the audience.
After trivia was over, the room cleared for a special announcement by Robert Osborne. A few days ago I received an invitation to a press event at which Robert Osborne would be making an announcement regarding a series of costumes on exhibit at the festival. It was billed as a “part of a major announcement,” and I was curious to see what he would have to say. I sat at one of the press tables and soon after Robert Osborne came out along with a representative from Bonham’s auction house. It turns out that TCM is going to be collaborating with Bonham’s for a major memorabilia auction in November, consisting of many costumes and items from the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond. The Bonham’s representative was quick to point out that the auction is using the TCM definition of classic–“Classic meaning great, not necessarily vintage,” she said. It promises to be an interesting thing to watch. It won’t start until November, but if you would like to learn more about it, information will be available at http://www.bonhams.com in the coming months.
Access to the opening night screening of Funny Girl was restricted to high level pass holders only, but I instead attended the screenings of Ninotchka (1939) and Summertime (1955) with pleasure. Ninotchka is, as most classic films are well aware, is a legendary comedy, ahead of its time in its use of humor. It tells the story of Ninotchka Yakushova, a Russian envoy who is enlisted in the sale of Russian royal jewels in Paris–and her rigid manner is slowly melted by Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas), who is trying to assist a duchess in her goal to retrieve the jewels before they are sold.
The famous tagline of the movie is “Garbo Laughs!” which refers specifically to one very clever scene in which the Count tries to make her laugh by telling jokes at a restaurant. None of the jokes are funny to Ninotchka until the Count, in his frustration, accidentally falls off his chair. This elicits peals of laughter from Ninotchka, and signals the beginning of her melting persona.
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, much of the film is echoed in the later Lubitsch film To Be or Not To Be, including much of the cast and the general intellectual feel of the movie. Also similar to To Be or Not To Be which derives its humor from Nazi oppression, the humor has dark undertones dealing with tyranny under the rule of Joseph Stalin. Its story was made into a Broadway musical called Silk Stockings in 1955, which was then transferred to the screen as a 1957 musical film with Cyd Charisse.
Summertime has a completely different tone. A romantic drama starring Katharine Hepburn as an American tourist in Venice and Rossano Brazzi as her Italian love interest, it is more an examination on the realities of life and love than any sort of feel-good romance. Rossano Brazzi’s character is married with 4 children, having an affair with Katharine Hepburn, who is only in town for a short time. David Lean intended for this to be a steamy, passionate love story, true to the stage play by Arthur Laurents. However, at the insistence of the Catholic church, David Lean had to cut 18 feet of shot film, and the story suffers. What remains, though, is a sweet story and the movie contains some of the most beautiful shots of Venice onscreen. A funny trivia bit about this movie that has made its way into the Katharine Hepburn legend, is that Katharine Hepburn refused to perform a scene that required her to fall into the canal, on the grounds that it was far too dirty and she would get sick. After pouring massive amounts of disinfectant into the canal, Hepburn finally agreed to do it but complained throughout her life of chronic conjunctivitis due to that scene in Summertime.
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See you in the morning!